Local Man advocates for an international student exchange program | Education

If anyone is going to promote international trade in the Emporia area, who better than a man named John Keosybounheuang?

“I’m half Lao, half Thai,” he said of the name. “This family name is Lao.” And you pronounce it kee-OH-see-boon-hong.

Keosybounheuang is the new local coordinator of international cultural exchange services. One of its main goals is to find host families for students who want to attend American schools for a year.

“We actually have our fourth this year,” he said. “Natalia, our current one, is from Spain.”

But world events can have an impact on these exchanges.

Keosybounheuang had to give up a ‘family member’ from Italy for two months at the start of 2020 due to coronavirus. This was followed by online classes for another guest the following fall.

“Any student who has participated in sports must still do so,” Keosybounheuang said. “In most European schools, athletics is not part of the school. It’s a separate club. »

But as COVID-19 appears to be waning, now there is the fighting in Ukraine.

“We talk about current events in the world,” Keosybounheuang said of his conversations with Natalia. “That’s about the best we can do – try to be informed.”

At this point, the exchange programs remain unchanged. Keosybounheuang added that student safety is “absolutely important”.

Keosybounheuang noted that students are briefed for several days before arriving in Kansas to ensure they know what they might be facing.

“They understand it won’t be ‘High School Musical’,” he said, “but they’re making the most of it.”

Student exchange programs thrive on interaction, so clients experience life in the United States to the full. This may mean joining school clubs, although it is not required.

“It gives them more opportunities to make friends,” Keosybounheuang said. “The one thing they all say in common is: I want the American high school experience.”

ICES can change young people’s minds about what this experience is really about.

“My first student thought everyone was going to wear cowboy hats,” Keosybounheuang said. “So she takes me.”

But the relationships built can last well beyond a year in an American home.

“My first two are coming back for my daughter’s graduation” in May, Keosybounheuang said.

Keosybounheuang can place students in host homes within a 150 mile radius of Emporia. Families interested in hosting exchange students can contact him by email at jkeo@icesusa.org.